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Questions Arise Over Chappaqua SROs in Budget After Officer’s Arrest

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Calls against the Chappaqua School District spending $1.1 million on school resource officers (SRO) for 2024-25 intensified last week after details emerged that one of the district’s three SROs faces domestic violence charges.

Former New Castle officer Joseph Carbone, who rotated between Chappaqua’s three elementary schools this academic year, was placed on leave shortly after his Feb. 4 arrest for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend while she was feeding their baby at their Poughkeepsie residence. He resigned from the force effective Mar. 19 after four-and-a-half years on the job, Chief James Carroll said last week.

Carbone, 34, faces five misdemeanor counts – third-degree assault, second-degree unlawful imprisonment, fourth-degree criminal mischief, criminal obstruction of breathing and endangering the welfare of a child, according to Dutchess County Senior Assistant District Attorney Sinead McLaughlin.

An Extreme Risk Order of Protection was also issued two days after his arrest, and two firearms, including his town-issued police gun, had been confiscated, McLaughlin said. Carbone was arraigned but has not entered a plea. He is due to return to court on May 10 in Poughkeepsie, she said.

The incident has some community members in Chappaqua who have been opposed or have had mixed feelings about SROs questioning whether it should be spending $1,124,000 for the officers in each of the district’s six school buildings. As currently proposed, the budget would exceed the tax cap by about $2.5 million.

One district parent, Ingrid Scholze, criticized the district for failing to inform the community why Carbone was abruptly replaced in February as the elementary school SRO, particularly at a time when the district appears likely to ask the community for support to override the tax cap.

“The fact that this has not been communicated to people as a part of that discussion is really disturbing because it seems like a coverup, and there are ramifications for how people are going to vote based on how well they think the school has done vetting people, how safe they feel like those officers make them,” said Scholze.

Another parent, Beret Flom, who ran unsuccessfully for school board last year and has challenged district officials about the outlay for the SROs at this year’s budget meetings, said studies have shown little to no correlation between safety and the presence of officers in the schools.

“I think we need to be looking at how our resources are being used in the district, and I know that safety is a top priority, but there are many ways of protecting our students that have been proven to be effective but don’t increase the risk of accidents, injury or harm to students, and that’s not more guns in school,” Flom said. “I don’t think more guns in schools is the answer, but I also think that the board needs to be fiscally responsible.”

Carroll said the police department evaluates the officers who may be the best fit for the SRO role. In its 37-member department, nine officers currently have the qualifications to fill the job of SRO. Despite the turn of events, the chief said Carbone never exhibited behavior that raised a red flag.

“I can tell you there was never an issue with Officer Carbone’s performance as a police officer or his performance as an SRO,” Carroll said. “As a matter of fact, he was loved by students, staff and parents in his performance as an SRO.”

When contacted last week about its response to Carbone’s legal issues, the district shared its three e-mails from Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christine Ackerman starting on Feb. 7 to parents and the school community informing them that Carbone had been placed on leave at that time. The third e-mail from Ackerman, on Mar. 18, introduced the new SRO, Thomas Mirabella, to the community. Mirabella had filled in since Feb. 12, Ackerman’s third e-mail stated.

At the board’s Mar. 13 work session, Board President Hilary Grasso said while she understands the reservations about going above the tax cap, district surveys conducted during the 2022-23 school year pointed toward strong community sentiment for having additional SROs.

Officials have said they want to give the public the chance to weigh in on whether that remained a priority, along with keeping smaller class sizes in the elementary schools, another significant cost in the proposed budget.

“I feel like we need to keep the SROs in the budget and give the community the opportunity to vote on that recognizing that it would be a non-levy compliant budget, (and) that there’s going to be opposition to that,” Grasso said. “But I feel like there was so much outcry and there has been so much outcry in the wake of every gun violence incident in this country, and I probably agree with that outcry, but I don’t feel like I can say with any degree of certainty that it’s going to stop the gun violence.”

Another outspoken resident, Will Wedge, who also doesn’t think SROs should be in schools, said both the town’s police department and the school district failed the community.

“We’re entrusting somebody with a gun next to our children,” Wedge said. “The bar should be much higher in investigating that person than just a standard line for a new cop for the New Castle Police Department. The standard should be expansive, intensive and deep and focused into their background, like you’re applying for a national security clearance.”

Last week, The Examiner contacted University of Delaware Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice Aaron Kupchik, who has done research on the effectiveness of SROs.  Kupchik said “there is no evidence that the presence of police officers deters the likelihood of a shooting.”

“So if the concern is strangers who come in with the intent to do harm, there’s no evidence of effectiveness,” he said.

While Kupchik didn’t discount the benefits of having another responsible and compassionate adult in a school serving as a mentor, it would be more beneficial in many schools to have additional counselors, psychologists, social workers or mental health professionals on staff, he said.

But Carroll said he believes SROs in the buildings are worth the expense if that’s what the community decides.

“I think they’re an incredible value to the school district and the community,” he said. “In addition to the security, they’re a resource for the students and teachers, they make them feel comfortable. They have a skill set that teachers don’t have.”

The school district is scheduled to meet next to discuss the budget on Tuesday, Apr. 16.






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